Bye Bye Ice Chips, Hello Chocolate Shake in Labor!

Need water, food, anything?! Ask your doc if you can have a protein shake - new studies show they're just as safe as those accursed ice chips. Image design by Decoded Pregnancy. Original Image by al lanni.

Hungry, thirsty, and tired during labor? Ask your doc if you can have a protein shake – new studies show they’re just as safe as those unsatisfying ice chips. Image design by Decoded Pregnancy. Original Image by al lanni

When you’re in labor, you may not be stuck with ice chips anymore! According to a recent study, presented at the Anesthesiology 2013 annual meeting, most pregnant women can drink a protein shake in early labor, for energy and more satisfaction than tasteless ice chips, without additional risk of aspiration.

Ice Chips in Labor

I have had patients begging to drink the water from their melted ice chips because they are so thirsty from the “hee-hee,hoo-hoo” breathing efforts during labor. It is a shame when women want to quench their thirst in labor with water and my hands are tied as the labor nurse.

We tell patients no due to the risk of vomiting – and the potential for you to breathe the vomit into your lungs (aspiration) in the event of an emergency procedure such as a C-section.

Although rare, aspiration is a serious and often fatal consequence of general anesthesia. If we can prevent this, or reduce your risks of aspiration, by restricting your food and water intake during labor, we’ll do it. New research, however, shows that for some women, a protein shake is just as safe as ice chips – and is much more satisfying.

Liquid Intake During Labor

After studying 150 women in groups separated with ice chips versus protein shakes, the results were surprising. This study concluded that there was not any evidence showing that protein shakes increased or decreased the mom’s vomiting and nausea, but that Mom was satisfied with having the drink rather than ice chips.

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Manuel C. Vallejo, M.D., D.M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, West Virginia University School of Medicine, Morgantown told Decoded Pregnancy, “Patient satisfaction is improved with high protein drink supplementation compared with ice chips/water with comparable stomach emptying rates. Since there are no increased adverse events with the high protein drink, one should feel comfortable substituting ice chips/water with the high protein drink.”

Although it appears that protein shakes are safe for most moms in labor, you may need to stick with ice chips if you’re at increased risk of emergency procedures. Which patients absolutely have to be NPO/ice chips? (NPO is Latin for ‘nil per os’ – directly translated, it means ‘nothing by mouth.’ – if you’re under NPO orders, don’t expect to get any food or beverages.) Dr. Vallejo tells Decoded Pregnancy, “Patients recommended to just stay with ice chips/water include moms who are at high risk for aspiration. These include a history of difficult airway, severe morbid obesity, severe diabetes with gastric slowing, surgery with altered stomach anatomy (gastric bypass).”

You probably know if you’ve had airway problems or if you are significantly diabetic – and if you’ve had a gastric bypass, but what does ‘severe morbid obesity’ mean? It’s based on your BMI or body-mass index. To calculate your BMI, divide your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in meters) squared. (Cornell University’s BMI calculator is in the Resources, if you’re not in the mood for metric conversions.) If your BMI was over 40 before you got pregnant, doctors consider you morbidly obese.

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